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Arizona Diamondbacks on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot: J.J. Putz

Now a special assistant to Derrick Hall. But is a trip to Cooperstown in his future?

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New York Mets v Arizona Diamondbacks

The 2020 Hall of Fame ballot is out, and this year, there are quite a few players with Arizona connections who have been added to the list. There probably isn’t much chance of any of them making it - odds are, most will be “one and done”, but let’s just review their chances, along with their time for the Diamondbacks.

J.J. Putz in Arizona

In contrast to the sometimes complex work which led to others in this series coming to Arizona, Putz was a refreshing simply free-agent signing. On December 7, 2010, the player agreed to terms with the Diamondbacks on a 2-year deal with a club option for a third season. Putz would earn $4 million in 2011, $4.5 million in 2012, and the option was for $6.5 million with a $1.5 million buyout. As we’ll see later, Putz had just come off a very solid season for the White Sox, as set-up man for Bobby Jenks. Arizona were certainly in need of someone for the job of closer after an unfortunate 2010 campaign, which had seen Chad Qualls begin in the position, but Juan Gutierrez ended the year with most saves.

Interestingly, in the light of the recent Madison Bumgarner signing, it appears that a liking for the local area might also have played into Putz’s decision. At the time, Nick Piecoro said, “Team officials believe chance to stay close to home -- he lives in the Valley -- was [a] big factor.” At that point, it appears he lived in Peoria - not far from the Mariners’ spring training complex, the team who drafted Putz, and for whom he played his first six season. But he subsequently moved on up, buying an 8,000 square foot Paradise Valley home in 2012 for $2.85 million. That house was put on the market earlier this year, but enough of Putz’s residential shenanigans.

It was a bit of a change for the D-backs, who had been dumpster-diving for closers since the exit of Matt Mantei. But you couldn’t complain about the results in 2011. Despite missing a month around the All-Star break with elbow tendinitis, J.J. still saved 45 games in 49 opportunities. Save for that injury, he’d likely have been the first Arizona pitcher with a 50-save season, as David Hernandez notched seven in Putz’s absence. Putz had a 2.11 ERA and was worth +342% in Win Probability, a figure only two D-backs’ relievers have exceeded (Brad Ziegler in 2013 + 2015, and Byung-Hyun Kim in 2001). Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to put up a zero when the team needed him most.

That came in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS against the Brewers in Milwaukee, a series which was the only playoff experience of J.J’s career. It ended regulation tied at two, and after home closer John Axford retired the D-backs in order for the top of the tenth, Putz took the mound. But a one-out single to Carlos Gomez was followed by a stolen-base, and Nyjer Morgan delivered a walk-off RBI, eliminating Arizona from the post-season, and tagging Putz with the L. It’s a shame that such a successful season for our closer had to end on such a disappointing personal note, but Byung-Hyun Kim will tell you, it’s not necessarily the end of the world.

And like Kim, Putz was just fine the following season. Maybe not quite as awesome: he had his struggles early on, and his saves tally dropped to 32 in 37 chances, though part of that was down to the team not being so good, meaning fewer save chances. His ERA went up. But at 2.82, it was still more than good enough. J.J. converted 17 save opportunities in a row at one point, and even achieved a rare feet of saving two games in one day, closing out both ends of a double-header against the Marlins in August. Unsurprisingly, the team exercised its option for the 2013 season before October was even in the books.

In hindsight, this was probably a mistake - though signing him to a $7 million extension for 2014, just a couple of months later, was even worse. Putz struggled through April with almost as many blown saves (4) as saves (5), then hit the DL in May with an elbow strain. He missed almost two months, blew his first save opportunity on return, and would get just one more over the remainder of his contract. When healthy, his numbers for 2013 weren’t bad: a 2.36 ERA over 34.1 innings, but the team was unable to trade him at the deadline. The team traded for a new closer that winter, in Addison Reed, and Putz’s health struggles continued in 2014, missing more time thanks to an forearm tightness.

On June 20, the team finally cut bait, designating Putz for assignment. He was released a week later, the team eating close to $4 million in remaining salary. J.J. retired at the end of the year, but joined the Arizona front office, as a special assistant to president and CEO Derrick Hall. One of five such, according to the team site. But we’ll always have this memorable moment, in which his delivery is interrupted by the opening chords of Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue...

Hall of Fame chances

Putz was also Mariners’ closer for a while, notching 36 and 40 saves in 2006 and 2007 respectively. The latter year, he had a WP of +582%, the most for any pitcher in the majors by fifty-nine percent, and won the Rolaid Relief award for the American League. He also appeared in the All-Star Game for the only time, being credited with a hold despite allowing a two-run homer to Alfonso Soriano. That’s four 30+ save seasons for J.J, not a bad number - only 32 men have had more. His final tally of 189 saves ranks him 57th in baseball history. But he is only 145th among relief pitchers by Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, which measures Hall of Fame chances.

I think his best qualification for Cooperstown is probably being able to say that he’s not Heath Bell. Whether that will be enough to get him any votes or not, we’ll find out in a couple of weeks.


Will J.J. Putz get any love at all from the Hall of Fame voters?

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